“Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Why do we believe if we haven’t seen? I can only scratch the surface here. While leaving out the reasonableness of belief, authority, witness and testimony, proofs, evidence, personal and communal dimensions, virtue, truth, and revelation, faith is a human act of the intellect and will in response to God’s grace.
Belief is an act of the intellect. We are curious creatures: investigating, searching, prodding, examining. We want to see and understand. We want to learn. Why do things work? How do they tick? I once took apart a soda fountain milkshake maker I had bought at a yard sale for a dollar. It was amazing with magnetic copper coils, wires, and gears. In the end, I didn’t learn much and when I put it back together, touching it would send a low voltage electric current through my body. Yet, I was motivated to see for myself and understand what I could. If we approach the teachings of the Catholic Church in this way, we find a plethora of details, depth, and sophistication so as to ever gain more knowledge. If we can get past apathy, the church’s own actions which have diminished her credibility, or the idea that the church’s teachings have no value for our everyday lives or happiness, our intellects will be satiated on rigorous logic and profound reasoning. God, however, remains a mystery beyond our capacity to fully understand. Our intellect gets us to the edge of belief, of faith, but no further.
Belief is an act of the will. We make decisions every day. Although some would argue against our experience based on fate, genetics, neuroscience, or quantum mechanics in different spheres, we do experience our lives as a string of small and large decisions in response to opportunities or challenges. I may choose to buy a lottery ticket against the odds, root for the Air Force basketball team, or forgive an enemy. These may not make much sense to my intellect, but I will it none the less. On the off chance that the probabilities align and a result of great value to myself or to the common good may come to pass, I can choose to act against my intellect for some benefit. A soldier may sacrifice himself on the field of battle, a teacher may receive less pay to work in a Catholic school, or a priest may run into a burning cathedral to save the blessed sacrament and a crown of thorns. We can submit our intellect to an act of our will. Ultimately, we must do so to have faith. Believing in God, who is beyond our capacity to fully understand, isn’t just fire insurance, an out of this world retirement plan, or raising the world up by its bootstraps, however. Faith requires more of us. Much more.
God is involved. Always the initiator, God has created us for relationship. God loves us without limit and without coercion. He preserves our freedom, for love is only love if given freely, received freely, and chosen freely. God gives light to our intellect and grace to our will by the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Faith comes to us as a gift. While we retain our freedom to cooperate with God’s light and grace, to receive or reject the gift of faith, faith and belief are not possible without God. Faith is more than a destination, a static decision, or a scale. It is a journey and a relationship that always draws us deeper in love with God. By God’s grace, we give more and more of ourselves to God who has given his all to us. We offer our intellect and will to God who takes our gifts and sets them on fire with his love. We don’t just understand the mystery, we enter the mystery. We don’t just choose God, we are chosen by him. We don’t just obey rules, God writes his law on our hearts. Faith isn’t just the minimal hurdle we have to clear, it is leaping into our Father’s arms time and again from greater heights and further distances. With each leap, we say, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” God will always catch us.